Tar on the Trail

The Trail

Just outside the Des Moines metro, the Raccoon River Valley Trail for 89 miles, travels through 15 Iowa communities, and crosses the Middle Raccoon and Raccoon rivers. Riders 18 and up are required to a user fee of $2 a day or $10 for a year.  Strong boxes are located at trailheads for purchasing trail permits. Each trailside community has it’s own trailhead.  Most are renovated train stations as this bike trail was once a railway. This flat trail takes riders through open areas of Iowa’s farmland and tree-lined tunnels of wooded areas.

Trail Map

Trail Information


The Ride

With the goal of taking my time on the trail and enjoying a calm spring day my intentions were to leave from the Panora trailhead and ride to Dawson and back. The furthest I’d ever ridden on this north/south length of trail was to Yale so I was excited to see what lay beyond the tiny town.

Only a few blocks from the trailhead is Heritage Park.  It’s small but certainly catches your eye with the beautiful flowers, railroad artifacts, and bicycles decorating the flower beds.  There’s a water fountain here along with a shaded place to rest.  As I approached the park I met two cyclists who informed me “they’re putting down tar north of Yale”.  I thanked them for the heads up and quickly made an adjustment to my plans.  Not sure what riding across tar would mean for my bike tires I decided to ride until I met up with the trail crew and then determine if it would be necessary to turn around.

This portion of the RRV trail is the Bluebird Trail.  Dotted along the trail are numerous bluebird houses.  While I did spot a couple of Bluebirds, the majority of the houses had Tree Swallow perched on them.  It was as if they were calling dibs on the houses for summer.

Less than a mile outside of Yale things started getting sticky.  The tar had been laid in the trails seams and also small potholes.  Larger patches had lined with tar and sprinkled with limestone. Keeping a close eye on the trail and my bike tires II rode a short distance further.  Up ahead something was moving around on the trail.  Getting closer I was surprised to see it was a bird.  Both feet were stuck in the tar and it was flapping it’s wings in a desperate attempt to free itself.  I couldn't just ride by so I stopped and found a large tree branch and managed to free the Cowbird’s feet. It flew away leaving behind feathers as proof of the struggle.  Hopefully it lived.  

I certainly had not planned on rescuing wildlife on my bike ride.  After that experience I opted to turn around and cross my fingers I wouldn’t come across any other creatures trapped by the tar on my way back to Yale.  When I considered repair work on Iowa’s bike trails, I always thought of the positive results, but there are certainly possibilities of negative results too.

On my way back through Yale I rode through downtown and stopped at Bell Street Market, grabbed a snack, and headed over to the trailhead to collect myself.  It was such a beautiful Iowa day.  Cutting my ride short because of trail repairs would be a shame.  I opted to ride back past Panora and on to Linden.  The ride there was peaceful and I enjoyed taking in the scenery and observing how green everything had gotten since I was there last in March.  Reaching Linden,  filled up my water bottle and then leisurely returned to Panora with no additional mishaps.

I’ll definitely need to return to Panora to complete the ride I had intended to take.  Hopefully there won’t any more sticky situations on bike rides this season!

Happy Riding!